Like several other phrases, this phrase has been selected from Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo and Juliet. This phrase is illustrating a couple whose bond of love is destined to fail. Its origin seems to be astrological, but it is best known for its association with Romeo and Juliet. In the prologue, chorus uses states, “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, / Whose misadventured piteous overthrows / Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.” (Lines 6-8) The phrase is about Romeo and Juliet, whose love and affection is destined to end in a tragedy.
It refers to someone having bad luck, because the stars or heavens do not favor him. This phrase refers to those lovers whose relationship is destined to fail, because people who have a strong belief in astrology are of the belief that stars actually control the destiny of human beings. Simply, we can call this couple ill-fated. Star-crossed lovers present a perfect example of archetypes, of how two characters love each other, but are unable to continue due to societal and family conflicts, leading to a tragic end. Romeo and Juliet are also archetypal star-crossed lovers, who fall in love, but face numerous hardships because their families did not agree to this relationship.
We often see the use of this phrase in literature and movies. We find many examples of star-crossed lovers in novels and plays, such as Lancelot and Guinevere in King Arthur’s mystical tale Round Table, Heathcliff and Catherine from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and Lyla and Majnun from the classic love story Nizami Ganjavi. Its use in modern literature includes Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater in the movie Titanic. What we have learned from these examples is that a couple in everyday life, who experience a tragic end to their relationship, could be called star-crossed lovers.
The chorus uses this phrase in the sixth line of the prologue section in Romeo and Juliet. The chorus goes on to say that,
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,…
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
(Romeo and Juliet, Prologue, Lines 6-15)
Both the lovers, due to the unfortunate circumstance, predetermined fate, or uncontrollable situations, are destined to face failure in their love affair. This exactly happened to this romantic couple, Romeo and Juliet. When the order of the stars is shattered and “crossed” in Romeo and Juliet’s lives, they face this tragic situation, and their misfortune end their lives. Thus, we can say that destiny proves tragic for their lives.
As we know from the prologue of this play, which introduces the couple as “star-crossed,” it becomes clear that the couple’s relationship is to face hardships. This phrase has been used as a harbinger of doom and devastation for the couple. You have noticed towards its end how the couple is at the mercy of destiny/fate/bad luck/chance.
In the Prologue section, Chorus uses this phrase by introducing the couple to the Elizabethan audience. This shows that this term would definitely be familiar to the audience. The stars are a part of the chain of being, and if one part of the chain becomes upset, then chaos and disorder replaces the order. Thus, when lovers’ stars are misplaced, things go wrong and destiny alters the order and arrangement of things.